The Susan Crown Exchange (SCE) staff and board are not alone in our concern about the current state of our country: who is being heard, who is getting what they need, and who is being left behind. And like many others, we are seeking to define what that means to us in our investments, and how to collaboratively find solutions to these challenges..
We started by thinking about our model (the Exchange), our areas of interests (digital learning and social and emotional learning), and better defining what success means to us (ensuring youth have the skills to thrive). Without getting into the nitty-gritty of these conversations, we have come to the realization that when we say our goal is for youth to thrive, we mean that youth need the skills to thrive in life, work, and play. This realization has led us to more specifically think about digital citizenship, workforce readiness, and sports and coaching.
The why in this case matters, but that is for another time. Right now, I would love to know:
what does digital citizenship mean to you?
Webster’s Dictionary defines citizenship as “the qualities that a person is expected to have as a responsible member of a community.” The term is listed as a noun, but really, citizenship is a verb: it’s a way of responsibly living and engaging in the community in which you live. The word’s origin is Latin – civitas – because at the time, more people identified as a citizen of their city than with their country. Today, technology has broken down traditional borders and again shifted the meaning of community. Thus, a digital citizen is one who acts as a responsible member within their online community.
The challenge with digital citizenship is that because it is so new, the rules are constantly being drafted and re-drafted without understanding the risks, rewards, and responsibilities of navigating online communities, sometimes – whether inadvertently or advertently – causing pain to others. At SCE, we believe kindness matters. We are seeking to bridge, rather than divide our communities, our workplaces, and our families, and we are looking at how to best do that.
Recently, I had a conversation with Kristen Cambell, the executive director of PACE, and I asked what digital citizenship meant to her. She replied that the answer would depend on the perspective: is it an avenue for engaging in citizenship, or a practice in and of itself? To further our discussion, Kristen shared a metaphor around how her funders and practitioners think about civic engagement (as excerpted from the original blog: The Civic Engagement Field is a House, July 28, 2017):
“If you think of the civic engagement field as a big house, it’s easy to visualize the way funders and practitioners interact with one another to create the larger whole we all represent, and how each piece interacts with and supports the others. In civic engagement some folks come in through the front door, with the kinds of activities we traditionally associate with civic engagement like voting, community organizing, volunteering, etc. Others come in through a side door or a window. These folks might focus on issues like the alleviation of poverty, environmental work, or health, and they use civic engagement as a strategy to achieve those ends. Others serve as the floor or foundation of house. These are folks who focus on issues like structural inequality or personal freedom, and see civic engagement as a mechanism for building individual social and political power and shifting systems toward a more inclusive and representative frame. Without a strong foundation, the other elements of the house are fundamentally weakened. Finally, there is the roof, or the enabling conditions of democracy, encompassing things like journalism, media, and social entrepreneurship. The roof protects the house — if there’s a leak, that negatively influences the way the rest of the elements can operate.”
I like this metaphor. It’s a simple, yet systematic way to understand the players in the civic engagement space. However, it is missing one vital thing: the people – the citizens themselves – and how they interact with one another.
Change, on any level, cannot happen without people. And while these interactions between citizens look slightly different whether online or offline, it’s the core components of citizenship – responsibly living and engaging in the community in which you live – that matters. To take the house metaphor, is (digital) citizenship the nails of the house – what keeps it all together – or is it the people living in the house – the ones who make the house a home?
We are still early in this process and are still seeking to understand what is going on in this space: if you have thoughts or ideas on this, please take one minute to fill out the survey or leave a message in the comments below.